In 2001, the uprising by the Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) brought Macedonia to the brink of civil war. The insurgency was led by Ali Ahmeti, a former guerrilla leader and now a prominent politician and leader of the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), the largest Albanian party in Macedonia.
Ahmeti is from the village of Zajas, in western Macedonia. Unlike most of the inhabitants of his all-Albanian village, he completed secondary school and even attended university, studying philosophy at the University of Pristina. Throughout university and beyond, he participated in the Albanian separatist movement in Kosovo, for which he was arrested and imprisoned for one year.
In 1986 Ahmeti sought political asylum in Switzerland. Despite leaving the country he remained politically active, engaging in protests by students and miners against Milosevic's regime in the late 1980s, coordinating protests of the Albanian diaspora, and playing an active role in the National Movement of Kosovo. Ahmeti finally returned from Switzerland in 2001.
In the same year, under Ali Ahmeti's leadership, the NLA launched its uprising, openly engaging the forces of the Macedonian government. The rebels soon gained control over many of the villages around the north-western city of Tetovo and much of the region between Tetovo and Kumanovo, advancing as far as Arachinovo, a suburb of Skopje. Seven years later Ahmeti maintains the insurgency was justified:
"Nobody wants war with its suffering and destruction, especially not we Albanians. But we were forced by the situation, because we had exhausted all possible means, we used up all possibilities one can reach by legal means… There was injustice towards the Albanians… and this is why the armed conflict started."
In an attempt to prevent the country from descending into civil war the leaders of both sides met in the summer of 2001 to negotiate a peace settlement. The outcome of two weeks of talks at the lakeside resort of Ohrid, mediated by the EU and US, was the Ohrid Framework Agreement. Ahmeti himself did not attend the talks in Ohrid, but remained in constant contact with the Albanian representatives, Arben Xhaferi and Imer Imeri. At the time, Ahmeti described the agreement as "a compromise in which the Albanians are winners". Six years later, in 2007, he viewed its implementation as successful:
"I believe there has been extraordinary improvement since the year 2001. The Albanians now feel somewhat closer to the state. This is due to the participation of Albanians in the police, military, and administrative structures, the legalisation of the University of Tetovo, the upcoming law on the use of national symbols, the upcoming law on the use of the Albanian language in the local region, and so forth. The Albanians feel more loyal to the state and in the future further improvements agreed in the Ohrid Agreement will certainly be implemented. Albanians definitely see this place as their home country, their state."
After the end of the insurgency, Ahmeti founded the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI). In its first elections in September 2002, the party won a clear majority of the Albanian vote and 16 seats in parliament. The DUI entered into a coalition with the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the Liberal Democrats, but – as a compromise solution – it was agreed that Ahmeti, as the former rebel leader, would not take up a government post.
In the next elections in July 2006, the DUI emerged again as the strongest ethic Albanian party, but was not invited to participate in the coalition formed by Nikola Gruevski. This prompted the DUI to boycott parliamentary sittings for most of the first half of 2007. It returned after Prime Minister Gruevski gave in to some key demands, including an agreement on 46 draft bills under the so-called Badinter Principle (whereby some laws cannot be adopted without the endorsement of MPs representing ethnic minorities).
In the latest parliamentary elections of June 2008, the DUI again emerged as the strongest Albanian party with 18 parliamentary seats, clearly defeating its rival, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), which won 11 seats. In July, after long consultations the VMRO-DPMNE, led by Nikola Gruevski and the DUI, announced the formation of a new government.